Tangier Island waterman Donald 'Thornie' Thorne crab scraping

Island Life

An excerpt from Jay Fleming’s new book of photographs

After my first book, Working the Water, went to print in 2016, I felt compelled to begin work on my next project—a focus on two special Chesapeake Bay islands, Smith and Tangier. I had dedicated an entire chapter to “Island Life” in my first book, but I knew the story didn’t end there. As I grew to know the islanders, I felt compelled to learn more about their incredible history and traditions. At the same time, I was struck by the vulnerability of their isolated home. I witnessed severe weather events, like tidal flooding from hurricanes and Tangier’s January 2018 freeze-up. I documented the construction of massive erosion-control projects that aimed to protect the islands’ fragile shorelines.

I traveled to the islands during all times of the year to document the seasonal fisheries and capture a sense of place even during the harshest conditions. I made the trip so many times that these islands started to feel like my second home. Of course, getting there was no easy task. The process of packing my gear, towing the boat down to Crisfield, Md., and running across Tangier Sound took the better part of a day, and was a clear reminder of the challenges that come with living in an isolated island community.

Through it all, I was motivated by a deep desire to capture a moment in time for these incredible islands, as the very forces that sustain them also threaten to take them away. Since my first trip to the islands more than a decade ago, I have witnessed remarkable changes to the landscapes and communities. Though only miles from the mainland by boat, Smith and Tangier seem worlds apart from the life that many of us know. I hope these photographs capture the same sense of awe I had when I first stepped foot on the islands, transporting you to the Island Life.

This article is excerpted from contributing photographer Jay Fleming’s book, Island Life. The book can be ordered at